Aarhus is the fastest growing city in Denmark. This is predominantly a positive development. But with it comes the challenges and the need to create a city that embraces this diversity and fosters a sense of community in order for the city to be a good place to live for all.
However, the traditional bureaucratic top-down approach to city development falls short in this endeavor. At the same time the interest for local policy making has decreased, especially among citizens with lower education, young citizens and citizens with little sense of local community feeling. One of the main reasons for the lack of interest is the experience of alienation and mistrust in the local municipality.
Consequently, the traditional top-down approach and lack of easy access-channels to influence ones surroundings creates a democratic deficit, leaving little space for the enormous potential of people-powered ideas and entrepreneurial mindsets that is needed to create strong, coherent and dynamic local communities.
Digital Neighborhood is four re-designed telephone booths. Picking up the hand-set, the citizen is presented with a short video or a number of questions relating to the development of the local community. The installation then records the answer delivered simply through speech. Ideas or votes on how to develop ones local community can be delivered 24/7, providing citizens with an unlimited direct digital source of influence. The municipality and the local community are then choosing, developing and implementing the best ideas for local community development – as a project of co-creation.
So far, Digital Neighboorhod has been present in 26 different parts of the city to let the citizens share their ideas for local policies, improvements of public spaces, public events and much more. In total, 1281 ideas and votes have been received through the phones – allowing everyone, including the ones that does not usually take part in the traditional democratic channels, the unusual suspects, to get involved.
Harlev, a suburb to Aarhus, had allocated financial resources to make improvements of the local library as well as the green areas of the suburb and used one of the digital telephone booths to ask the citizens how the money should be spent. It was put up in the middle of the suburb and all citizens were encouraged to pick up the hand-set and deliver ideas for how to best spend the money. All the recorded ideas were transcribed and published on a website. This allowed the citizens to become inspired by the ideas of others and ensured transparency of the process, which was vital to the project. 48 ideas were recorded, transcribed and then illustrated.
Finding the best idea was also done by using the installation for a vote among the citizens of Harlev. The winning idea for the library was delivered by a child who simply picked up the phone and said “I’d like a gaming area in the library” – shoving how simply people powered ideas, from anyone, can become a reality.